Sunday, August 30, 2015

Killing Our National Parks With Love

Travelling in my RV last March I visited two of the Mighty Five National Parks of Utah: Arches and Canyonlands, both located near Moab, UT. In choosing them I wasn't influenced by Utah's $12 million advertising campaign. I don't think I had seen any of the campaign ads, but was aware that the Moab area was no longer a quiet backwater for outdoor enthusiasts. I had arrived a day after the 39th annual Easter Jeep Safari took over Moab's streets and campgrounds, one of over 120 Moab tourism events held every year.

Delicate Arch
On my first day I visited Arches National Park and was amazed at the backed-up vehicle traffic. Perhaps I shouldn't have. Arriving the night before I saw a heavy stream of traffic exiting the park after sunset. Every campground, pull-out or attraction within the park had parking areas filled near or at capacity. There were no trails where one could fully appreciate the beauty in solitude.

Approach to Delicate Arch
After finding a spot along the road beyond the filled overflow parking area I found that the approach trail to the iconic Delicate Arch was a filled with people hoofing it up the sandstone mountain in their flip-flops following a plethora of  user installed trail cairns. Once at the Delicate Arch there was no way to get a photo of the Arch sans people as there was a constant queue of people wanting to take their selfie photo standing beneath the arch. It felt more like a day at Coney Island than a trip to one of the most revered sites with the national park system.

I am not advocating an elitist approach to park use, it's that we know all too well that humans can love something to death. I wouldn't be leading wilderness trips for the Sierra Club's Outings program of writing this blog if I wasn't interested in promoting exploring and enjoying the National Parks and wilderness areas.
Preserved wilderness is a gesture of restraint on the part of species notorious for its greed. It's a symbol of hope that a species might turn out to be good ecological neighbors after all.  Wilderness And The American Mind,   Roderick Frasier Nash
In this 99th year of the National Park system, many of the systems units are experiencing significant increase in visitors. E.G. YTD Increase: Arches NP=14.9%. 1,051,507 , Zion NP = 17.3%, (2,781,999); Dinosaur NM = 15.2 (206,458). Source: NPS Stats The NPS budget is going up, but not fast enough to keep up with the growth in visitors or addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance in the park system costing $11 billion. 

The NPS is increasingly dependent upon Volunteers in Parks (VIP campground hosts and volunteer rangers), as well as cost sharing programs with public and private organizations. RV-based users have an important role in supporting park operations. Please consider becoming a volunteer. Here are some options.

Suggested Read: Killing Our National Parks With Love (Source: High Country News)

Then again, some people don't like National Parks and give them bad reviews in social media. these people probably wouldn't be interested in volunteering.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Want to Try Glamping?

Nice Architects Ecocapsule
Ready to try some Glamping (Glamor Camping)? This may be the sweetest thing for high-tech aficionados to take the plunge into off-the-grid living. I like the concept, but it lacks the design details to effectively and adequately generate power consistently. I just have to figure out how to afford transporting it to some of the remotest destinations I have in mind. Care to join me?

I think you would need to be a "clean freak" to live in the sterile environment as shown. Me? I'll wait for version 2.0 to come out. I wonder what it costs?    Source: A Hub Away From Home

Beauer 3X Camper
A more appealing alternative to me is the Beauer 3X Camper, but it lacks all the renewable energy components.  Surely someone can market a hybrid of the two.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Go West Young Man

I was recently visited by longtime friend, Dave Dewitte, and his 13 year old son, Calvin. Some of my friends may remember David as a business reporter for the Southern Illinoisan. He is now the Linn County business reporter for the Corridor Business Journal in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Calvin is a dinosaur enthusiast and wanted to go whitewater rafting with his dad so coming to Dinosaur National Monument seemed a natural fit for these two astute explorers. Perhaps Calvin was channelling R. L. Sanderson, a young news correspondent who had requested career advice from the infamous Horace Greeley, news editor of the New York Tribune, who in 1871 (same year as John Wesley Powell's second expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers) wrote:
Horace Greeley
So many people ask me what they shall do; so few tell me what they can do. Yet this is the pivot wherein all must turn. I believe that each of us who has his place to make should go where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms. Of course, I say to all who are in want of work, Go West!
And West they came. I arranged for them to both take the day long raft journey through Whirlpool Canyon in the monument on the Green River and to visit some of the wild destinations within the county such as the Sand Wash Horse Management Area.

Calvin Communing With The Wild Horse Herd
After a long search we found a herd of wild horses where fearless Calvin walked right up to the herd for a wild photo opportunity. He approached closer, but for his safety we asked that he withdraw some distance for the picture.

At the Raft Take-Out Ramp
The guys had spent the same day on the river and made a visit to the famous dinosaur quarry where over 1,500 fossils were on display for viewing and hands-on opportunities.

Digitizing Dinosaurs

You Needed to Run Fast, Very Fast

Hummingbirds Suck

My RV's Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbirds have always fascinated me, but until this year I never put out hummingbird feeders as I usually wasn't sedentary enough to have time to watch and study their behaviors. That changed with my current RV campground hosting job where the lead ranger and I have three feeding stations that attract a lot of birds everyday.

I had made the assumption that they drew their flower nectar in via a suction method as humans do when sucking a straw. Turns out that line of thinking WAS contrary to what ornithologists thought they knew about the mechanical feeding process. They generally thought the birds wicked their nectar.

It turns out they were wrong and new research indicates my uneducated assumption was correct all along.

Even so, I still have a lot to learn about our winged friends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seasons of Change in The High Desert

August Sunrise at the Gates of Lodore Campground
I recently experienced yet another dramatic sunrise in the high desert. The morning sky changed from a flaming horizon devouring the clouds to a bluebell blue canopy alive with flocks of hummingbirds in pursuit of nectar from sources few and far between. 

They fly to my feeders within inches of my camera lens more leery of their peers than me who offers no competition for the sweet, red nectar.
Last snow of winter
at the Old Corral

Mid-Summer at the Old Corral
From early Spring to early Fall this high desert blossoms with a variety of flora. But overall the background panorama evolves from monotones of grey, and muddy ivory to a multitude of green, yellow, brown and vermilion colors made possible by declining winter snowpack melt and the sprinkling of summer' random cloudbursts.

We've had less than an inch of rain in the last two months..

Prickly Pear Cactus
Before The Rain
Prickly Pair Cactus
After Spring Rains
The hummingbirds are accompanied by flocks of crows and black-billed magpies, nesting pairs of Canada Geese, Orioles, Peregrine Falcons, and Golden Eagles.
Bald Eagle Flying Through
Indian Park Below the
Green/Yampa River Confluence

Canada Geese

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Desecrators of Wild Rivers

I blogged earlier this month about defenders of wild rivers. By happenstance, today's blog is about the desecrators of wild rivers.

With only a month to go before I leave my volunteer job at Dinosaur National Monument, I've been working hard at refining my itinerary for the next six months. My original intent was to drive south through Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico en route to Las Cruces, New Mexico where I will be spending three months building houses with Habitat For Humanity.

I've been captivated by the beauty and diversity of the scenery and wildlife of the high desert and western riparian environments. I thought I would revisit the Moab, UT region and then head south to the San Juan River watershed that includes:
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Navaho's Monument Valley
  • Four Corners Region
  • Hovenweep National Monument
  • Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, and
  • Aztec Ruins National Monument along the Animas River.
The Animas River is a major tributary of the San Juan River. The San Juan then flows into the Colorado River, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead  (largest US reservoir) and finally ends its liquid life after a 1,450-mile journey in a dry channel across the border in Mexico.

The Animas and San Juan River basins are significant tourist destinations. They are the lifeblood of the region. 45,000 people took whitewater trips on the Animas last year. The average flow of the San Juan River at Bluff is about 2,200 cubic feet per second (CFS). The Green River at Flaming Gorge is about 1,870 CFS and for my Midwestern friends as a point of reference, the Des Moines River is about 3,732 CFS.

So, what am I leading up to with all this data? Hopefully you've seen the recent news reports of the disastrous Gold King Mine waste dam breach near Durango. The breech released about three million gallons of water polluted with heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, copper and calcium. These metals linger in the environment. The mine was last active in the 1920s, but its been leaking toxics at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons a minute for years. Notice I didn't call this an accident! While the EPA has accepted responsibility for the breech, the root cause of the breech lies spread widely with the mine owners, bought-and-paid-for politicians, business leaders, and some local residents.

The Navajo Nation overlaps much of this region. The nation has a long history of having to deal with coal and uranium pollution. It now joins many small communities in the region in having to deal with this man-made disaster.

Can life survive in the Animas River? 

How this impacts my RV travels remains to be seen. I doubt that the river rafting companies will reopen soon. I suspect that I'll still visit the area in September when, hopefully, the surge of toxins will have fully passed and the impacts better known, but the toxic contamination will undoubtedly remain.

The economic consequences upon the region will undoubtedly linger for untold years. There are hundreds of other mines like the Gold King that continue to be toxic threats to the region.

Who do you think is responsible for the desecration of this important watershed? If you were living there what would you do?

Update #1: More Background Information
Update #2: Nearly A Century And A Half Of Pollution For Animas River
Update #3: Animas River spill's political fallout defies expectations
Update #4: Navajo farmers suffer after Colorado mine fouls southwest rivers
Update # 5:…/cartoo…/the-toxic-mining-law.html
More Updates: (source:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Defenders of Wild Rivers

Friends of the Yampa
Wow, it's been a year since taking the plunge into the unfamiliar RV lifestyle by buying an 18 year old motorhome. I can't say that decision was a mistake. It has also been one year since my wife's death -- a lonely year without Jan's warm and constant presence. It has also been a FULL year of new experiences, new people, projects, and possibilities.

I've driven nearly 4,000 miles, visited a lot of inspiring locations and had great fun learning more about Utah’s and Colorado's unique history and characters. I still need to explore much more of these two great states.

I’ve been reintroduced to the Dinosaur National Monument that I firstvisited in 1972 with my girlfriend at the time, the late Mary DeJager. I've been able to raft through the Monument down the Green River twice this season. It contains some of the most spectacular scenery that western rivers have to offer. No wonder, the Yampa River that joins the Green is the last undammed river in the vast Colorado River basin.

John Wesley Powell Photo (National Gallery)
This country dominated by great vistas and raging water has inspired brave explorers like John Wesley Powell and thousands of defenders of wild rivers, many from Colorado, but also thousands of fellow Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, Isaak Walton League, and National Parks Association members. Had it not been for these friends of wild places the Yampa and Green Rivers would have been dammed and their canyons inundated with thousands of feet of silted water. What a great battle ensued that these volunteers undertook and are still fighting! They preserved a national treasure for future generations! A full read of the history of fighting for wild rivers is worth your time! Try this site for an introduction: 

Many of the people that float the Green River are past and present river guides and their children, each carrying on a tradition of exploring, enjoying and protecting wild spaces. Each person that floats the river becomes an advocate for the protection of wild places. It’s impossible to not be convinced of the natural beauty of this region.

Those river guides gained their experience working for both large and small river rafting concessionaires that have a special relationship with the monument’s rivers and have also been instrumental in supporting the National Park Service in their mission. Locally, the best of these concessionaires consist of:

I've seen activist leaders of several environmental groups come float the river such as the Water Keepers Alliance, Friends of the Yampa, American Whitewater, and the Sierra Club. David Brower of the Sierra club first encouraged club members to explore, enjoy and protect this region back in 1953 when David Brower finally visited the area and experienced his "conversion" to being a strident defender of un-dammed rivers.  (For an abbreviated history of this turbulent time read for free portions of  Dreamers and Defenders: American Conservationists).

The club sponsored two trips on the Green River this summer. I hope to continue that tradition next year leading a trip of my own down either the Green or Yampa River. Why? The Yampa remains threatened today with proposals to transport the Yampa River's water over three mountain ranges to the Denver area.

Another significant group of people I’ve witnessed exploring the Green River and Dinosaur National Park are the growing number of environmental/adventure education organizations: Outward Bound, Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC), Colorado Discover Ability, National Outdoors Leadership (NOLS) School, SPLORE, and more. I encourage your support for these organizations.

Groups of all sorts come here to get away from urban living and explore their potential: school classes, retired teachers and administrators groups, family reunions, women’s groups, and the Wounded Warriors Project. The challenge and inspiration provided by the river experience changes people physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Well, my season at Gates of Lodore is drawing to a close. Seasonal Ranger Gonzales' last day is this week.  In six weeks my constant companions, Roger Dodger and Whiskers, will be heading south with me for the winter with no firm plans yet for next summer.  Until next April arrives I’ll drive a couple thousand miles more, visit nearly a dozen different national parks and wildlife refuges, and meet what I hope are many new friends along the way. Every day is a new adventure. I hope to meet you on the road.

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
~ An old Irish blessing